All minor league numbers come with caveats. There is always an age factor to consider, or some injury problems, or maybe a player is repeating a level, or skipped a level, or is changing position, or just adopted some changes to his swing, or any of numerous other things. No matter what the numbers look like there is always a circumstantial lens through which we can look at those numbers. Sometimes that lens significantly adjusts how we view the numbers, and sometimes the impact is minimal.
And then we have Jorge Soler. In his case, figuring out which lens to use is half the challenge.
The young outfielder had his season cut short by injury, but in the time he did spend on the field he put up some solid numbers. The nature of that injury, though, a lingering leg problem that he might have been playing through for part of his season, forces us to question the numbers he did put up. We already knew that Soler was good, but if he put up lines like this with a leg injury, just how good can he be when healthy?
That breakdown begins after this disclaimer. The goal here is not to re-rank the prospects (that comes next year) or to assess the strengths and weaknesses of farm as a whole (that also comes next year). The goal for this series is to take each prospect individually, study the progress made so far, and see what we can learn about the future for that player.
The upshot of the rest of this article is that watching Soler play baseball in 2014 stands to be a whole lot of fun.
Jorge Soler, OF
Born: February 25, 1992
Acquired: The Cubs signed Soler to a Major League contract in June of 2012. His six million dollar signing bonus was the largest in team history until the Cubs signed Kris Bryant.
This is a tough one. The short answer is that he amassed 236 plate appearances over 55 games with High A Daytona, and in that span he hit .281/.343/.467 with 11 home runs, a walk rate of 8.9%, and a strikeout rate of 16.1%. That all translates into a wOBA of .367 and a wRC+ of 128, which in turn equate to a pretty good, if injury shortened season. Even better, at 21 he was actually a touch young for the league.
The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Looking at the splits, for example, we get a somewhat varied picture. If we record Soler’s OPS by month we see the following:
April – .776
May – .907
June – .602
April featured 75 plate appearances, and June featured just 45, but in May he made 118 trips to the plate. May is the only number we can look at with any sort of confidence, but the steep drop off in June would dovetail nicely with his season ending leg injury. In May his slash line read .301/.373/.534. That’s a marked increase over his season numbers, which makes sense given the injury effect on his season numbers.
Soler only had 58 trips to the plate against left handed pitching in 2013, but he pummeled those lefties to the tune of a 1.112 OPS. The sample size is small, but so far it certainly looks like he is not going to have much trouble with southpaws. That’s a good thing.
But there is one more split we should consider. Over his season Soler had 135 plate appearances at home and 103 on the road. His home line reads .244/.291/.390. His away line reads a remarkable .330/.408/.568. Very rarely do I see a Jekyll/Hyde road/home split of that magnitude in which the player does markedly better on the road. I don’t really have an explanation for that split, but I can’t just ignore it either. Neither ballpark nor scheduling factors would appear to explain that nearly .400 point gap in OPS, but there it is.
So where does that leave us?
The Leg Question
Knowing that he was playing with at least a partial injured leg that was affecting his game for at least part of his season, how do we read those numbers? Is his season OPS of .806 accurate, or should we put more weight in the May OPS of .907? Or do we decide his road OPS of .976 is the real Soler?
For me, the answer is none of the above. At least, not entirely. When the numbers can’t tell me enough of the story, I turn to the scouting reports. Fortunately for us, Soler’s status as a league Top 100 guy means that there are a lot of words written about him across the internet.
Jonathan Mayo rates Soler above Kris Bryant and calls out his plus bat speed, very good approach at the plate, and significant raw power. Baseball America lists Soler as the Cubs’ number five prospect, but refers to him in passing as a guy with 80 power. In the past (the 2013 Prospect Handbook specifically) Soler was noted as having as high as ceiling as anyone in the organization, Javier Baez included. Baseball Prospectus piles more praise on Soler’s abilities with the bat and, provided he can clean up his swing, projects a possible future as a middle of the order bat for the Cubs.
I don’t see anything in his 2013 numbers that make me question those reports. I only wish he had been healthy all year so we would have a better idea just effective he can be.
The Other Stuff
There are some in the media and fan worlds who love nothing more than to rip Soler on the basis of that incident with the bat last spring. I’m not in that camp. It was a mistake, and he paid for that mistake, but I’m not going to attack his character based on that one incident. It happened, but at this point it is a single data point. It takes more than one data point to make a trend.
There have also been efforts to brand Soler as a lazy player based on some other reports. This accusation pops up against various players from time to time and is usually unfounded. I don’t see much value in that thinking generally, and I don’t see anything to be concerned about in the case of Soler.
If there are any long term problems with Soler’s character or on-field effort that are going to sabotage his career, those problems will show up quite clearly as he progresses up the system. That will be the time to worry about such things. Until then, as with any prospect, I will simply monitor those aspects of his game and those facets of his development. To do anything more, particularly at this stage of his career, would simply be premature.
In a season in which we have reason to believe his numbers were somewhat depressed by injury, Soler still managed an ISO of .186, a low strikeout rate of 16.1%, and an OBP of .343. On the basis of just those three numbers we should be looking forward to his future. But when we pair those numbers with the high offensive praise piled on him by the scouts, it starts to look like 2014 could be the Summer of Soler.
If he is healthy in spring training I see little reason to send him back to Daytona for any reason other than to shake off some rust. He’s proven he can handle High A; I want to see how he responds to the much greater challenge of Double A.
In terms of his long term future, I suspect Soler has the highest floor of the the Cubs Big Four. His peripheral numbers are much healthier than those put up by Baez or Bryant, and he has all the tools be well above average defensively in right field. I think he is a relatively safe bet to not only make it to the majors, but to have a very nice career there.
His ceiling is right up there with the best in the organization as well. I would not be surprised at all to see Soler emerge as the best overall hitter of the Cubs Big Four before it is all said and done. There are no red flags on his stat sheet, and his road to the majors is about as straightforward as they come. Do not be surprised if Soler is the number two or three hitter in Chicago in the not too distant future.
I would not be at all surprised to see Soler in the majors in the second half of this season. Once he adjusts to Double A pitching and gets his game rounded back into form, the Cubs will have little reason to keep him in the minors. He may still need a little time in Iowa, particularly if concerns about his ability to handle hard, inside pitching manifest into a problem, but his presence on the 40 man roster ensures that there will be a minimum of logistical issues slowing him down. I don’t expect him to be patrolling right field before September, but if he does open in the season in Tennessee and plays well there, that timetable could accelerate a few weeks.
There is one downside to Soler having a successful 2014, though. We’re going to have to put up with a lot of headlines containing terrible puns based on his last name. Given the upside of seeing him action for a full season, I think I can stomach some bad puns.